COVID-19: Kansas City Goes Dark

It was a Friday the 13th like no other. 

Friday is normally a big day for the performing arts. But this was not a normal Friday. For theater companies and other arts organizations, the COVID-19 pandemic suddenly got real. 

Kansas City Repertory canceled two world-premier productions, one of which was to have opened that night. The Lyric Opera of Kansas City cancelled the final two performances of its production of “Lucia di Lammermoor.” The Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art announced it would close the next day and stay closed through April 3.

These decisions followed a proclamation by Mayor Quinton Lucas declaring a state of emergency in Kansas City in response to the COVID-19 pandemic that has claimed thousands of lives across the world. Lucas initially banned public gatherings of more than 1,000. Some cities had set the crowd limit even lower in an attempt to curb the effects of the airborne virus, which spreads exponentially. The smaller the crowds, the lower the chances of transmission. That’s why officials stress that “social distancing” can reduce the number of infections. 

By Sunday night, the mayor had issued a second proclamation in accordance with a new recommendation from the Centers for Disease Control limiting public gatherings to no more than 50.

The Kansas City Symphony postponed a planned Saturday night concert, “The Music of the Rolling Stones: Mick Jagger & Keith Richards 1969,”  as well as a performance celebrating the music of ABBA later in the month. The orchestra also cancelled three classical concerts.

 Broadway in Kansas City postponed upcoming productions of “Fiddler on the Roof” and “Aladdin” until further notice.

 The American Jazz Museum and the Blue Room closed until April 4 and the National World War I Museum will close through April 3. 

KC Fashion Week postponed its annual event — two weeks of runway shows by designers from across the U.S. — until September.

Kansas City is not unique. On Friday New York City closed all Broadway theaters for the first time in history, except for the days following the 9/11 attacks. 

This disease has claimed more than 6,500 lives globally, according to CNN. The network also reported that the number of cases in the U.S. had surpassed 3,000.

There have been at least 61 deaths in the U.S. In Kansas, as of this writing, there are nine cases and one death. In Missouri, six cases. 

Many experts believe the real numbers are much higher. 

The Centers for Disease Control on Sunday evening issued its new guideline, recommending gatherings of no more than 50 for the next eight weeks. “Events of any size should only be continued if they can be carried out with adherence to guidelines for protecting vulnerable populations, hand hygiene and social distancing,” the CDC statement read.

Soon after, Mayor Lucas issued a second proclamation adopting the new CDC reccomendation: gatherings of no more than 50 for eight weeks. The mayor said exceptions will be made for “educational institutions, daycare facilities and business operations.”

Whether small arts groups qualify as “business operations” is unclear, but Chad Gerlt, MTH president/CEO announced Sunday night that the theater company in Crown Center would postpone an upcoming production of “Carousel.”

“This was a difficult decision,” Gerlt said in a statement. “However, we feel it is critical, the correct course of action, the socially responsible decision.”

Live music venues planned to make adjustments to limit the potential COVID-19 threat.

“Some concerts have been postponed, but many haven’t,” Knuckleheads, the East Bottoms music venue, reported on its Facebook page. The club said it is monitoring capacity to maintain a comfortable distance between guests and limiting social contact — “no handshakes, hugs, high-fives or fist bumps.”

AMC Theaters, the national movie chain based in Leawood, began capping ticket availability at 50 percent to allow patrons ample room for social distancing. The policy continues through April 30. 

Kansas City Rep’s cancellation of two world premieres — Kyle Hatley’s “Frankenstein: A Ghost Story,” and “Legacy Land,” a new play by Stacey Rose, was particularly painful following months of work. The shows were to have run in repertory for the next few weeks. The theater company said on its website that “the safety of our patrons, staff and artists has been and always will be of the utmost concern at KCRep. We have been closely monitoring the regional response to the evolving situation with COVID-19 and find ourselves at a critical moment in our history.”

Robert Trussell

Robert Trussell is a veteran journalist who has covered news, arts and theater in Kansas City for almost four decades.

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